How to Select the Right Paralegal Certificate Program Near Alabaster Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Alabaster AL and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of potential students start by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Alabaster homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program must be considered also. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Alabaster AL lawyers with a wide range of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their day-to-day activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Alabaster AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require just 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected certifying organizations in the profession are:
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- American Alliance of Paralegals
- National Association of Legal Assistants
- National Association for Legal Professionals
By graduating with a paralegal degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more prevalent and can be an excellent alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Alabaster AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Alabaster AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant factors to consider as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Alabaster AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Alabaster AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also offer a means for students to start creating contacts within the Alabaster AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it may be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to first look at those colleges that are within the Alabaster AL area.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be accessible to help reduce some of the expense, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Alabaster AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, some of these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while getting their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Alabaster AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you choose provides that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making up classes missed because of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right Alabaster Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the best paralegal training school is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Alabaster residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in numerous lengths and formats. Different types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you elect to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the right training you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Alabaster Alabama.